ROAD TEST: BMW 320d

ROAD TEST: BMW 320d

OVERSTEER ROAD TEST: BMW 320d

When BMW launched the new 3 Series earlier this year, the company also resurrected its long-time “Ultimate Driving Machine” marketing tag. At the launch we concluded that the new 3 Series did indeed live up to the tried and true line, with a great mix of ride quality and tenacious handling. But that was on a horrendously wet race track and damp roads between Taupo and Auckland. How would the 3 Series actually fare in daily life, with dry roads and lots of day-to-day driving? We grabbed the keys of a 320d to find out…

The 320d is one of the core models in BMW’s 3 Series line up. Its blend of frugal fuel usage, big diesel torque and BMW quality at a respectable price has always made the entry-level oiler a popular choice.

But with the release of the new model BMW has upped the game, jamming more kit into the four-cylinder diesel for pretty much the same money, plus hooking the engine up to a sparkling new 8-speed automatic transmission to improve fuel economy even further.

Making the 320d and even more compelling choice is the obvious aim here, what with Audi making a push down the price range in this segment with its new 1.8-litre turbo petrol A4s and all, but the 320d still has a massive diesel-y advantage over the Audi. All that lovely torque…

Outside

The new, wider look that debuted on the new car works particularly well with our metallic grey example. Looking low, wide and assertive on its 18-inch alloy wheels, the 320d is a purposeful beast that strikes just the right balance between elegance and aggression.

Despite a strong family resemblance to the larger 5 and 7 Series, the 3 has a distinct personality of its own, emphasised by the unique headlight treatment that blends nicely into the traditional “double kidney” grille.

The sleek, elegantly aggressive tone continues down the flanks and on to the rear of the car where, for the first time in a while, the 3 Series gets a set of taillights that don’t look slightly out of place. Not sure why that was with the last car, but they never quite looked right…

There is very little to be critical about in regards to the appearance of the 320d; it is strikingly handsome, distinctly a 3 Series and capable of blending in or screaming “Look at me!” depending on what colour you choose and how you spec it.

Our grey example was particularly subtle, but still distinct and attractive. There isn’t really a colour that the 3 Series doesn’t work well in though.

Inside

The new interior is, again, distinctly BMW. Not quite as spectacular as an Audi interior, it is however a nicely put together, well designed place.

There are a few chinks in the armor inside though, with a few places being a bit more plasticky than you would prefer, but on the whole the interior felt solid and of a high quality.

Our 320d featured the no-cost option aluminium trim, which is by far our preference for interior trim in a BMW. It also featured BMW’s “Sport Line” pack that adds a splash of red trim to the dash and doors and stitching on the leather seats.

Oh yes, the seats. They are spectacular. As usual with a BMW, the seats in the 320d a startlingly adjustable, ridiculously supportive and surprisingly comfortable. The leather is fantastic quality and the feeling of being enveloped by the seats as you climb into the car adds a nice sense of occasion to the start of any journey. Even if it is just down to the corner dairy…

While the design is all new, the actual layout of controls still feels familiar and sensible. Everything falls to hand nicely and iDrive becomes ever-more logical and intuitive with each incarnation.

Under the bonnet

The 2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine is carried over from the last-generation 3 Series, with a few modifications that see improved power (now 135kW and 380Nm) and fuel consumption (now an impressive 4.4L/100km), yet with reduced emissions of 117g/km.

Given the consumption claims made by BMW, the performance on offer from the 2.0-litre diesel is simply ridiculous.

The 320d belts off the line with solid aggression and instant torque. The diesel growl is a bit more coarse and clattery than the silky diesel inline sixes that BMW produce, but the thrust is intoxicating.

In terms of everyday driving, the 320d is damn-near perfect. The torque is always ready and waiting and the power delivery is linear and silky. The 8-speed transmission smacks a bit of ratio overkill, but is a wonderfully slick shifter. It occasionally got flummoxed by quick blasts on the throttle – to get that gap in traffic – and would end up hanging desperately on to a low gear in anticipation of further acceleration, but this was rare.

Otherwise it did a fantastic job of being in the right gear at the right time. Shifting gears manually via the steering wheel-mounted paddles was equally slick and impressive, but with eight ratios to plow though it soon becomes a bit tiresome. The shortness of the ratios also means you are constantly flicking the paddles if you really climb up the 320d…

Fuel consumption is deeply impressive, regardless of how you drive the 320d. BMW claims a combined consumption of 4.4L/100km and that would probably be easily achievable with a good mix of town and open road driving. We, however, drove the 320d around town (aggressively, it has to be said…) and thrashed it like a rented mule on various winding back roads with regularity. This saw the 320d return 5.9L/100km, which is simply ridiculously economical when you consider how it was driven…

On the road

The reason for this aggressive assault on BMW’s fuel consumption figures is simply because the 320d is a joy to drive. Around town it feels taut and ready for action, without ever feeling fidgety or brittle over rough surfaces.

The ride is quite startlingly compliant though, leading you to wonder if the new 3 Series has gone a bit soft and thus, undeserving of its Ultimate Driving Machine tag. But this is certainly not the case.

Despite the massively impressive ride, the 320d is a wonderfully responsive corner attacker, with lightning-fast turn in and a thoroughly wonderful rear end. The taut, ready for action feel that promises so much at low speeds delivers an involving, exhilarating driving experience on the twisty stuff.

Steering feel is good for an electric assisted system, and while it still feels a little artificial at speed, it is fantastically accurate and responsive. Chuck the 320d into a corner and the nose leaps in crisply and eagerly. The rear will basically do whatever you want it to do – track through nice and stable or swing out gently and progressively in a beautiful drift, depending pin whether or not you use all that wonderful torque…

That said, the 320d does feel ever-so-slightly less planted and secure – especially around the rear – than the previous-generation car. Whether that is a result of the more compliant ride or simply a lapse in memory is debatable though…

Verdict

The BMW 320d is a remarkably capable and polished car. The four-cylinder diesel engine may not be as refined as the company’s sixes, but by God does it perform. The torque is virtually everywhere, making around town pottering, open road cruising or back road thrashing effortless and pure joy.

It is also strikingly good looking and remarkably frugal. The car we tested clocked in at $86,350 including $11,450 worth of options, all of which were nice, but hardly must-haves. Meaning that for $74,900 a damn fine car can be had.

Frugal, massively fun and surprisingly comfortable, the BMW 320d certainly lives up to the company’s marketing hype. The Ultimate Driving Machine, indeed…

BMW 320d specifications

Price: $74,900 ($86,350 as tested)
Body type: 4-door sedan
Drive: Rear-wheel drive
Engine Type: Four-cylinder diesel
Engine Capacity: 1995cc
Max power: 135kW @ 4000rpm
Max torque: 380Nm @ 1750rpm
Fuel Consumption: 4.5L/100km
C02 emission: 118g/km
0 to 100kph: 7.6 seconds
Front suspension: Double wishbone
Rear suspension: Multi-link
ABS Brakes: Yes
Air Bags: 7
ESP: Yes
Air Conditioning: Dual zone climate
Lap/diagonal belts: 5
Satellite Navigation: Yes
Electric seats: Yes
Burglar Alarm: Yes
Panic Button: No
Wheel type: 17-inch alloy

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